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Appl Environ Microbiol. 1996 Dec;62(12):4594-7.

Stabilization of pet operon plasmids and ethanol production in Escherichia coli strains lacking lactate dehydrogenase and pyruvate formate-lyase activities.

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  • 1Fermentation Biochemistry Research Unit, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Peoria, Illinois 61604, USA.


In the last decade, a major goal of research in biofuels has been to metabolically engineer microorganisms to ferment multiple sugars from biomass or agricultural wastes to fuel ethanol. Escherichia coli strains genetically engineered to contain the pet operon (Zymomonas mobilis pyruvate decarboxylase and alcohol dehydrogenase B genes) produce high levels of ethanol. Strains carrying the pet operon in plasmid (e.g., E. coli B/pLOI297) or in chromosomal (e.g., E. coli KO11) sites require antibiotics in the media to maintain genetic stability and high ethanol productivity. To overcome this requirement, we used the conditionally lethal E. coli strain FMJ39, which carries mutations for lactate dehydrogenase and pyruvate formate lyase and grows aerobically but is incapable of anaerobic growth unless these mutations are complemented. E. coli FBR1 and FBR2 were created by transforming E. coli FMJ39 with the pet operon plasmids pLOI295 and pLOI297, respectively. Both strains were capable of anaerobic growth and displayed no apparent pet plasmid losses after 60 generations in serially transferred (nine times) anaerobic batch cultures. In contrast, similar aerobic cultures rapidly lost plasmids. In high-cell-density batch fermentations, 3.8% (wt/vol) ethanol (strain FBR1) and 4.4% (wt/vol) ethanol (strain FBR2) were made from 10% glucose. Anaerobic, glucose-limited continuous cultures of strain FBR2 grown for 20 days (51 generations; 23 with tetracycline and then 28 after tetracycline removal) showed no loss of antibiotic resistance. Anaerobic, serially transferred batch cultures and high-density fermentations were inoculated with cells taken at 57 generations from the previous continuous culture. Both cultures continued to produce high levels of ethanol in the absence of tetracycline. The genetic stability conferred by selective pressure for pet-containing cells without requirement for antibiotics suggests potential commercial suitability for E. coli FBR1 and FBR2.

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